By John Kayser

To increase its impact, Water For People is adopting a more regional approach to development within the countries in which it works. By concentrating its efforts on multiple communities within a defined region, Water For People hopes to achieve 100 percent water and sanitation coverage in that region while increasing efficiencies and building stronger relationships with partners and the communities served. In this way, Water For People will make a more meaningful and measurable impact on the global water crisis.


Water is life. Like the air we breathe, water is essential to our very survival. Yet there are, today, more than a billion people in the world without access to safe drinking water. Another 2.6 billion lack access to adequate sanitation. While the situation has improved in recent years, this humanitarian crisis is still responsible for 1.8 million preventable deaths each year, mostly young children.

For 16 years, Water For People has been helping people in developing countries by supporting the development of locally sustainable drinking water resources, sanitation facilities and hygiene education programs. Since its inception, the organization has been building its capacity to reach more people in more countries to have a truly meaningful impact on the global water crisis.

In 2006, Water For People directly benefited more than 98,000 people with the development of safe water sources and/or improved sanitation, representing a 25 percent increase over 2005. This is impressive growth, but the need for the organization’s work is enormous.

Water For People recently adopted an ambitious strategic plan that will guide its work over the next five years. The plan calls for a fivefold increase in the number of annual beneficiaries by 2011 and expansion into five new countries. To reach these important goals, Water For People is refining a new, more strategic approach while streamlining operations and increasing impact.
 
From projects to regions
Traditionally, Water For People has been project-focused—providing water and sanitation solutions on a project-by-project basis in the countries in which it works. Projects were identified based on local need and might have been implemented anywhere within a given country. While successful, this approach was difficult to manage and inherently inefficient, with much time spent traveling between disparate locations. More important, the organization’s impact in the field was difficult to assess. “We had a community here, a community there and lots of communities in between that we weren’t reaching,” says Ned Breslin, Water for People’s Director of International Programs. “We needed to find a way to maximize our impact.”

The organization has recently adopted a new approach to its work by focusing on regions within its program countries. As part of a comprehensive strategic planning process, staff members in each country have identified distinct regions, incorporating numerous communities in need of water and sanitation improvements. The goal is to eventually provide 100-percent water and sanitation coverage within each region and increase the overall impact of the organization’s work.

“Now, each and every community within a geographic region will receive safe drinking water and adequate sanitation,” says Breslin. “The results will be quite tangible.”

The approach is already leading to dramatic increases in water and sanitation coverage with the added benefit of maintaining Water For People’s community-based focus. As a result of this strategy, Water For People expects that its country programs can and will support significantly more water and sanitation projects per year (more than 100 in each country) and thus reach many more people in need. 

Building trust
The regional approach is helping Water For People strengthen its reputation in the countries in which it works, creating an environment of trust among partner organizations and community members alike. Each successful project sets an example; nearby communities see results and know that Water For People delivers on its promises. The regional approach facilitates broad support for future work within the region and beyond and demonstrates Water For People’s successful model on a larger scale, which will ideally be replicated by others.

A regional focus has other benefits as well. Providing necessary and sustainable support for each project’s infrastructure is more easily and efficiently accomplished. By working with a number of communities within a given region, Water For People is forging stronger working relationships with its partners and potential partners, including local governments and NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Water For People is seen as a trusted partner and facilitator that is committed to meeting the water and sanitation needs of all communities within a region. Partners and community members see Water For People delivering results and are more inclined to support future work.

The regional focus has the added benefit of encouraging development of private sector support for community water and sanitation systems through an increased regional demand for these related products and services, such as suppliers of spare parts.

The regional shift is already demonstrating results on the ground. A good example recently took place in Honduras, where Water For People and its partner organizations collaborated on a baseline survey to determine water and sanitation needs in 143 communities in the three regions where Water For People will be working over the next five years. Community leaders provided an analysis of their current water and sanitation needs. It was a joint decision of community members and local authorities, who determined which villages would have water and sanitation interventions in 2007, 2008 and into the future. This unprecedented collaboration and planning demonstrates that the regional model is also very community-based.  

New funding opportunities
Water For People’s regional approach in the field is translating to new opportunities for donors to ‘go regional’ and have a larger impact on the water and sanitation crisis. The regional focus in international programs is providing Water For People with the opportunity to strengthen its reporting mechanisms to be more consistent and thorough. This means that donors will have direct access to complete information about all of Water For People’s work—in every country and every region.

A new online reporting system will keep donors informed and demonstrate contributions at work. Providing regular updates on work in each region, the system will be accessible to all interested parties via the Water For People website and will include the status of work in the region in closr-to-real time. The system will provide a wealth of information, including background on the areas being served, current water and sanitation coverage in these areas, work status, funding status, number of people served, monitoring and evaluation results, interventions planned and impact—all of the information a donor might seek. Personal stories from some of the communities served will also be included.

As always, the best way to support Water For People is to invest in the organization as a whole through unrestricted giving. Unrestricted donations give Water For People the ability to direct financial resources where they are needed most, whether to fund work in specific regions or to contribute to the other components needed to support Water For People’s work in the field. Like any organization, Water For People has support costs to ensure the wise use of donor dollars, communicate with supporters, raise funds and develop the infrastructure to implement the strategic plan of the organization—all to better enable Water For People to achieve its critical mission and vision.

For those donors who choose to more specifically direct their funds, donors will continue to have the option to adopt a country with gifts of $500 or more. These gifts support work within a specific program country and are used where the need is greatest in that area.

Many donors have sponsored specific projects in the past as a way to connect to Water For People’s work in a tangible way. Over the next year, Water For People plans to transition from the current ‘adopt-a-project’ option to a broader opportunity for donors to ‘adopt-a-region.’ This change will better align Water For People’s fundraising model to the focused regional approach in its international programs and will enable supporters to invest in Water For People on a more long-term basis. The ‘adopt-a-region’ option will be available to donors of $5,000 and above.

With the shift from projects to regions, all donors—whether they contribute unrestricted funds or choose to direct their funds to a specific location—will be able to invest in Water For People on a more long-term basis. With the robust information that will be available on Water For People’s progress in each region, the connection to the work for all donors will be just as strong, if not stronger.

Fulfilling a mission
The Water For People Board of Directors was instrumental in the shift to a regional focus. “This approach is a strategic move to build Water For People’s capacity and improve operational efficiencies,” concurs Fred Elwell, Board president. “It’s an integral part of reaching the goals established in our five-year strategic plan and making a more meaningful impact on the water and sanitation situation abroad.”

Going regional makes sense on many levels. This new approach will help Water For People reach more of the people who so desperately need access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation. It will allow Water For People to rapidly replicate its successful program model and demonstrate success in more measurable terms. Most important, it will prevent unnecessary water-related illnesses and save lives. The sooner, the better.

About the author
Water for People’s Communications Manager John Kayser was involved with the organization at its inception and
managed the production of the agency’s first marketing materials. Kayser previously served as Marketing Promotions Manager for AWWA and Marketing Director for Geospatial Information & Technology Association. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in business administration and marketing from Texas Tech University. Contact Kayser at 303-734-3476, or email jkayser@waterforpeople.org.

About the organization
Founded in 1991, Water For People is a Denver-based private, nonprofit international development organization that supports the development of safe drinking water resources and improved sanitation facilities in developing countries. Water For People partners with communities, local government, and other nongovernmental organizations to help people improve their quality of life by supporting sustainable drinking water and sanitation solutions, as well as hygiene education. Water For People supports projects with professional development advice, financial support, and volunteer technical services. Typical projects include protected spring-fed community water systems, gravity-fed systems, wells with hand pumps, latrine construction, operator training, and hygiene education. Water For People is currently working in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In 2006, Water For People’s work directly benefited more than 98,000 people in the developing world. More information is available at www.waterforpeople.org.

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